“This provides the safest solution, and believe me, we looked at everything,” said Rocchio, adding that RIDOT would consider alterations to the reroutes if requested by the communities.
Members of both the Barrington and Warren town councils gave the temporary plan a hesitant go-ahead, seeing it as the only viable solution in the short term. But many pushed back when Rocchio suggested RIDOT could make these reroutes permanent to avoid an expensive bridge reconstruction project.
“The notion that we may lose that investment because things kind of got out of hand, budgets inflated and things got more expensive, it’s just not an acceptable answer,” Cronin said. “To me, the only solution is the ultimate replacement of those bike path bridges.”
Rep. Jason Knight, D-Barrington, said the suggestion was indicative of a longer trend within RIDOT, which goes back to the “abomination that was the Barrington Bridge replacement.” The Barrington Bridge, completed in 2009, ran $10 million over budget and stretched more than 16 years — only to require millions of dollars in repairs 10 years later.
“You guys need to show up in a way that you haven’t in the past,” said Knight, noting other East Bay projects, including on Nyatt Road and Route 114, have seen long delays or gone unaddressed for years.
John Flaherty, a Warren resident who serves as vice chair of the state’s Transportation Advisory Committee, said he also sees a discrepancy in the funding of large-scale highway projects compared to the funding of other state transportation projects. He encouraged elected officials to take a stronger stance on where RIDOT spending goes.
“I think that the question is, are we adapting our transportation department and our transportation investments to meet the changing needs of our population, of our economy and our environment?” Flaherty asked. “And so, I just think that this is a very, very important question to be discussed across the state.”
Rocchio noted that funding for highway projects often comes from federal grants, whereas few grants are available for bicycle transportation projects. But council members continued to push RIDOT to track down the additional $15 million needed to reconstruct the bridges, including working with National Grid to source funding related to the utilities attached to the bike bridges.
“Worst-case scenario is, you know, a kid is going to get hit and a kid is going to die — and that’s not an overreaction,” Barrington Town Council Vice President Rob Humm said. “So, when the state is thinking of priorities, I respectfully request that you consider that.”